Showing posts with label HIV Criminalization. Show all posts
Showing posts with label HIV Criminalization. Show all posts

December 22, 2016

Missouri C.A. Vacates 30 yr Sentence for HIV’er Caught Up on Disclosure Laws

Michael Johnson - Photo: St. Charles County Police Department.
Michael Johnson – Photo: St. Charles County Police Department.
The Missouri Court of Appeals has thrown out a 30-year prison sentence and ordered a new trial for a former college wrestler accused of failing to inform some of his sexual partners of his HIV status. Michael Johnson, an HIV-positive black man with learning disabilities, was convicted last year of violating an out-of-date Missouri law that criminalizes the sexual conduct of people living with HIV.
The court of appeals’ decision is based on the state’s failure to turn over last-minute conversations recorded at the county jail that were subsequently used to obtain Johnson’s conviction. By failing to notify the defense of the evidence in their possession, the court found, the prosecution had essentially railroaded Johnson in a way that could have significantly altered the case, reports The Associated Press.
Presiding Judge James Dowd, in his ruling overturning the conviction, chastised the prosecution, accusing them of adopting a “trial-by-ambush strategy.” Johnson will now face a new trial, in which he’s been charged with one count of recklessly infecting another with HIV, and four counts alleging he exposed or tried to expose others to the virus between January 2013 and October 2013.

Prosecutors maintained throughout his first trial that Johnson had deliberately lied to sexual partners about his HIV status. During the trial, St. Charles Police Detective Don Stepp testified that more than a dozen other men had approached the department claiming to have had sex with Johnson after learning of his arrest under Missouri’s HIV criminalization statute. But Stepp also said those men didn’t want to file formal complaints, because they were not out to their families.
BuzzFeed‘s Steven Thrasher reported in 2014 that prosecutors have a form from the state of Missouri, dating back to January 2013, signed by Johnson, acknowledging that he had been diagnosed with HIV. However, Thrasher also noted in his article that Johnson was never given legal counsel when he signed the form, many months prior to his arrest, and may not have understood the legal implications of the document he was signing.
 Lambda Legal, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other LGBT and HIV/AIDS advocates have taken issue not just with Missouri’s law, but similar laws, which were written at a time when HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence. At that time, little was known about how the virus was transmitted or what safeguards can be used to protect against infection, such as the positive partner maintaining an undetectable status, the use of PrEP for the negative sexual partner, or the use of condoms by both partners.
“Living with HIV is not a crime,” Schoettes said in a statement. “Except in the most extreme cases, the criminal law is far too blunt an instrument to address the subtle dynamics of HIV disclosure. Willingness to be open about HIV status will be created only by the destigmatization of HIV and policies that ensure people living with HIV are not singled out for discrimination or special prohibitions and punishments. Prosecutions like this — under antiquated laws like Missouri’s — take us in the opposite direction.
“Given the outdated nature and extremely punitive nature of Missouri’s law, Lambda Legal is hopeful the State will not appeal this decision, and will instead work to resolve the case without the need for another trial,” Schoettes added.
John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at

December 31, 2015

The Criminalization of people with HIV is BIGGER than Known

HIV criminalization rates both in California and nationally may be much higher than currently estimated, according to data that UCLA’s Williams Institute obtained from the California Department of Justice.
BY AMIRA HASENBUSH & AYAKO MIYASHITA  |  In the current political climate, it’s almost impossible not to think about the criminal justice system – whether it protects and serves, how it helps or harms our communities, and whether justice is being delivered equitably and fairly. These conversations lead to examination of every step of the system – stop and frisk, arrests to convictions, sentencing and re-entry. But what do you do when laws have the specific and stated purpose to target a specific population? In California, there are four such laws that apply to people living with HIV (PLWH). These laws criminalize otherwise legal conduct or increase penalties for criminal offenses based on a person’s HIV-positive status. There has been a growing consensus that laws that single out HIV and treat HIV differently from other communicable diseases add to the already heavy burden of stigma that HIV carries. 
HIV criminalization rates both in California and nationally may be much higher than currently estimated, according to data that the Williams Institute obtained from the California Department of Justice. California is generally known as a state that rarely utilizes its HIV criminal laws, and previous estimates identified only a handful of individuals coming into contact with the criminal justice system on the basis of their HIV-positive status. It came as a big surprise when we found that 800 people had been involved in 1,263 HIV-related criminal incidents from the time these laws were passed in 1988 through June 2014.
Across the state, Los Angeles was the largest enforcer of HIV-related criminal laws: 48 percent of HIV-specific criminal incidents occurred in Los Angeles County, while only 37 percent of PLWH in California have lived in the county. Throughout California, 95 percent of those HIV-related criminal incidents were under a state law that makes it a felony to solicit for sex work while HIV-positive – a statute that does not require intent to transmit HIV, actual transmission or even exposure to HIV in order to prosecute. Nearly every incident that led to HIV-specific criminal charges – 389 out of 390 incidents – ended in conviction, and 91 percent of those convicted were sent to prison or jail for an average of over two years.
The biggest revelation was the prosecution rates under these laws.  Across all HIV-related crimes, white men were significantly more likely to be released and not charged whereas black men, black women and white women were significantly less likely to be released and not charged. 
These disparities were even starker among individuals assumed to be engaged in sex work under the solicitation while HIV-positive statute. White men were not charged in 70 percent of cases, while all others were not charged in 42 percent of cases.
When we talk about these figures, we are talking about people.  Criminalization in any form can change the course of a person’s life.  But the application of HIV criminal laws is yet another additional burden placed upon individuals living with HIV.  To the degree that these data suggest an unequal application of justice, we must ask ourselves – are these laws fair or are they merely steeped in fear?  Do they protect and serve, help or harm our communities?  Is justice being delivered here?   Our research does not provide us with all the answers to these questions.  But we can say that just like the rest of the criminal justice system, under HIV criminalization laws, certain communities bear more weight of the penal code than others. 
—  Amira Hasenbush is the Jim Kepner Law and Policy Fellow and Ayako Miyashita is the Brian Belt HIV Law & Policy Fellow at the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
How Criminal Laws Target People Living with HIV added by Mehmet Ozenki 

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